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Essay: Civil Rights Leaders: The Impact of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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  • Words: 982 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)
  • Tags: Martin Luther King Essays

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Civil Rights Leaders

The civil war abolished slavery; however, it failed to stop the discrimination against African Americans. Black people during the 50’s endured Jim Crow laws that separated them from whites; it was as if all the progress made during the reconstruction era was erased. Pure defiance’s like the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 and nonviolent protest in Georgia sparked sit-ins in other states. There were many influential people during the Civil Rights Movement era; It took leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. to bring awareness to these injustices and stand up for what was right despite the resistance of many Americans.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights activist who believed in nonviolent protest. He was born into a nuclear family; his father was the pastor of a Baptist church. Martin Luther King and all his siblings grew up in a loving environment; Martin grew up watching his father fight against racial injustices. He was said to be very intelligent as he skipped the ninth and 11th grade, and then attended Morehouse College at the mere age of 15 and earned a sociology degree; he also received his Ph.D. at the age of 25(__). King went on to marry Coretta Scott; the couple had four children, he also became a pastor at a Baptist church in Alabama. After being elected to lead the Montgomery bus boycott, Martin gave his first speech where she announced that there is no alternative but to protest. The boycott was the start of a new era for black Americans; they started to walk to work, they persevered through harassment and even intimidation. King's house was also attacked for the progress he was making, the city of Montgomery lifted the segregation of public transportation after this incident. King believed solely in civil disobedience; he was guided by his faith and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, he thought he could achieve equality for African Americans by protesting. Martin Luther King Jr. made lots of change through his non-violent protest, his letter from Birmingham jail was written after he was jailed for protest without a permit.

The march on Washington was his most famous protest, and it was here that he gave his well written and widely known speech, “ I have a dream.” The iconic statement spoke about civil and economic rights, Martin’s use of rhetorical devices made the speech live on in your brain even after he was done talking. Before Martin died, he was able to witness the civil rights act being signed in 1964. Martin Luther King stood firm in his belief against violent protest, even as his oppressors used violence to counter-protest King reminded his followers what they stood for and believed in. He had a real want for unity within the country; his assassination was a real tragedy and a loss to all Americans.

While MLK was peacefully protesting, Malcolm X, another civil rights movement leader was using an aggressive approach to gain equality. Born Malcolm Little to a Baptist preacher who was a follower of Marcus Garvey and was slain by Ku Klux Klan Malcolm was sent to a foster home. Malcolm dropped out of school after eighth grade. At a point in his life, Malcolm replicated “white looks” and was involved in burglaries which he served time for. He found Elijah Muhammad the leader of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam while serving his time, he then came to believe Christianity was “the white mans religion” and Islam was the “true religion of black mankind” (Wikipedia, 2018). After becoming a loyal disciple, he decided to change his last name to “X.” While Malcolm X and Martin Luther King had the same goal, to achieve equality for blacks, they had different approaches. MLK had a “softer” philosophy, Malcolm X told it like it was, whites ultimately found truths in his severely critical rhetoric of condemnation (History, 2018). Malcolm could not gain the support of the Nation of Islam and believed this was because of jealousy, Malcolm X was becoming a very influential person in the nation. After John F. Kennedy’s death, Malcolm referred it to “ the chickens coming home to roost,” this proverb means that your evil deeds, actions or thoughts are likely to come back to you at some point. This statement led to his suspension from the Lost-Found Nation; however, he took this time to travel to Mecca and discovered Muslims preach equality of the races, which led him to discard of his previously learned thoughts. Malcolm changed his name once again; he returned to America as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He still believed that racial inequality had corroded America and that only blacks could free themselves (History,2018).

King and Malcolm X are regularly seen as rivals in the black freedom struggle. Malcolm, who advocated a nationalist way to gain equal rights for African Americans, frequently provoked King, condemning him for subjugating blacks to their white oppressors and teaching them to be “defenseless in the face of one of the most cruel beasts that has ever taken a people into captivity” (Washington Post, 2018). King ignored Malcolm’s taunts and continued to preach equality through non-violence. Though the had dramatically different views on the struggle to total freedom both men began to change their way of approaching the topic later in life. King became more militant in gaining equality and more vocal about his dislike for the Vietnam war. While Malcolm who had just broken ties with his Islam religion change his views on race entirely. King once said that Malcolm believed that his belief in violence to gain equality was to help Martin not to harm him, Malcolm thought that if the whites had two clear-cut choices, they would be more inclined to make one (Washington Post, 2018). After all their contributions to the fight, Martin and Malcolm were both assassinated three years apart and both at the age of 39.

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